"They held the inquest at the woolshed this morning. Verdict—Accidental death. The only supposition is that in rounding a slippery siding the bullocks must have played up and overturned the empty dray.
"The unfortunate man must have been crushed under it, as his death would appear to have been instantaneous. There was the mark of a contusion on his left side, but it was hardly noticeable.
"He was buried this afternoon in a little plot of ground that has been fenced in near the river junction, and which it is intended to set aside for a cemetery. It contained only one grave, that of a poor woman with her newly-born child that died last year—a sad case, attributed to neglect. Now there are two graves. I suppose it will be filled in due time.
"I did not attend the funeral; I never do, on principle. I am informed that this has given rise to adverse comment. Likely enough. It does not matter."page 366
"Let me ask myself, Why should I attend a funeral? It is against my inclination to march in a lugubrious procession; I dislike ceremonies, and especially dismal ceremonies. They are a matter of indifference to most people—they are a matter of painful endurance to me. Why should I conform to a disagreeable custom that I do not believe in? To show respect for the deceased, they say. Pshaw! What can the deceased care for show or for respect now? Is death not awful enough without a parade and a mockery of woe? But it is customary. So are many things which I avoid and disapprove of. Yet I am not at war with society, but would fain be allowed to live my own quiet way, preserving much-loved independence even in little things, and without treading on any one's toes. I would respect the feelings, even the prejudices of others, providing I am not called upon to share in them.
"Dame Society, however, is resentful in these things; she cannot tolerate independence, and in the matter of conventionalities she is a termagant.
"God knows, the squinting old Jezebel (for she is nothing better), painted and bedizened, and rotten to the core, is essentially lax—to everything but appearances. She is of easy virtue herself, and not at all particular as to others, provided they study decorum. page 367She can blink, and she can wink—indeed, she appears to exist in a chronic state of winking—and under no circumstances does she ever attempt to look beneath the surface. 'Go your ways, my dears,' she tells her votaries, 'and be as false, as selfish, and as wicked as you please, only be proper. I care nothing about your morals or your sentiments—rather prefer them lax, as more amenable to my requirements—I am only rigid concerning appearances. You may break every law, moral and divine, with impunity, but the law of fashion you shall not break.'
"I have a friend, as honest and straight-going a man as ever lived, open in heart—and purse too, whenever the occasion needs it—but somewhat crusty in temperament and original in his notions. He attended the funeral of a friend once—a man of note, who was buried in state—and he followed the procession in a white coat. It was not done from ignorance, still less from absent-mindedness, for my friend was particular as to his costume, and prided himself on always suiting his dress to the requirements of the season. He had classified habiliments for every varying state of the weather. He had lived a great deal in the tropics, and had learnt to consider comfort before appearances. He met the scorching rays of the sun in spotless white, he was always muffled up page 368in a most intricate manner against a cold wind, while in the steaming heat of a summer's evening he was content to recline in pyjamas. On the occasion of the funeral it was a roasting day, and my friend had dressed accordingly. His appearance on the solemn scene in such a rig-out occasioned grave surprise, and was considered a public scandal. He was immediately cut by all his acquaintances; even his near relatives slammed the door in his face. Had he gone as a chimney-sweep he would have fared better, for then he would at least have been black, and black was de rigueur. Had he been a seducer of innocence, a disreputable gambler, a man of vile and intemperate habits, such misconduct would have been passed over, for the world is very lenient to well-dressed scoundrels; had he even committed a great crime he would have found numerous defenders to stand by him in the hour of need; but to appear at a fashionable funeral in a white surtout, that was the unpardonable sin. Society rose like one old woman, and shrieked him down. He was ostracised by the whole community, and had to fly his country.
"Poor Stead! I could not call you a friend, for we had so little in common, but I admired your unflagging energy, and I respected your practical virtues. If any man, by perseverance and self-denial, deserved page 369to get on in the world, then you did, for you never indulged even in a whim, or granted yourself a respite.
"Work, work, work! And all to what account? Your energy was fatal to you; by too much striving you fell. Had you been content to attend to your own duties, and to leave bullock-driving to those whom it concerned, you would have been alive now, and as happy, I suppose, as a man of your anxious mind and earnest temperament could well afford to be.
"Miserable fatality! Lamentable perversion of the moral order of things. The good apprentice comes to an untimely end; the idle one hath long life and goodly reward. We know that 'Fortune favours fools,' but when did we discover that Fate rewards the virtuous? There is no good to be got in moralising on this world, which is not only 'out of joint,' but topsy turvy. The lesson to be derived from this sad example is that excess of energy is bad and that zeal is disastrous. I am not naturally inclined to err in that direction, but should I follow any unthinking impulse, and be taken that way, then this melancholy case will restore me to ease and indifference, for I shall check any new-born ardour with the sad warning, Remember Stead!"